The halls of Moscone West have closed, and hordes of Google I/O attendees — a few swiping their temples, and almost all swiping their wrists — are heading home.
The conference didn’t have the flash-wow of 2012, with the Google Glass skydive, but it’s always a chance to get a glimpse at what’s going on at Google — or at least what Google wants to say.
With that in mind, a few things we know now that I/O’s over:
Google wants Android everywhere. If nothing else, I/O 2014 was a chance for Google to paint a picture of a world where Android follows you wherever you are — at your fingertips, on your wrist, in your car, on your home TV when you’re watching TV, on your home TV when you’re not watching TV. And more than being omnipresent, it’s always connected to itself, like the same ghost popping up in different portals throughout your day.
You search for a restaurant on your phone, then get in your car, and Android Auto suggests driving directions to the restaurant. Once you’re in the restaurant, someone calls you, and it pops up on your Android Wear watch. You drive home, serenaded by a song you listened to recently, which was suggested to you by the Spotify app on your Android Auto. At home, you relax with a movie on Android TV, and when you turn off the TV, Android is still there, on Chromecast Backdrop, showing you beautiful travel photos or snapshots from a family album.
Google wants to be Apple in some ways — and faster than Apple can do it itself. Google’s Android Auto announcement came just a few months after Apple’s CarPlay, and rumors of an iWatch precede Android Wear. The two companies are in a race to get their operating system into your hands, in front of your eyes or around your wrist as soon as possible, and as more devices depend on integration with other gadgets from the same company, users might feel more polarized. (Reporters with iPhones who tried to test out a smartwatch at I/O couldn’t get past the welcome screen.)
Swiping a watch is the newest distracted stance. Speaking of watches, the new game at I/O was spotting people standing in a crowd, elbow bent, swiping up, down, right and left on a square watch face. Some people said the watches d0 too much and flood them with unwanted notifications. But the third-party apps available for Android Wear at I/O were also limited in features.
Google still has a (pretty clever) sense of humor. Cardboard, Google’s poke at Facebook’s recent acquisition of Oculus Rift, seemed like a joke at first but is quite impressive. The cardboard handed out at the keynote folds into a cheap but effective virtual reality headset that holds a smartphone. The Cardboard team built several VR apps (see here), and they’re beautiful, intuitive and fun. A sleek magnet in the side of the headset can toggle options in the app, moving between options like Google Earth to A Windy Day, an immersive film that users can follow by turning their head as the protagonist, a mouse with a hat, moves through the story within the animated world.
Google and Samsung might be on better terms now. Samsung featured prominently in two announcements at I/O: it’s making a smartwatch that will run Android Wear, and its security technology will be in the new version of Android. That’s interesting, considering the two companies have been at odds as Samsung tries to lessen its reliance on Google on its mobile devices.
Google Glass and Google Plus are taking some time out of the spotlight. Much was made of Google Glass and Google Plus’s notable absences from this year’s keynote, especially after they dominated 2012, but Glass and Plus reps both said it was because the products didn’t have big news, or at least not news bigger than what was in the keynote.
Google still knows how to throw around its wow projects. A Thursday morning session for Google’s Advanced Technologies and Products Lab opened with the idea that the lab is a band of pirates “trying to do epic shit.” And epic indeed: the session included demos of Project Tango, which does 3D mapping on a mobile device, Project Ara, a quest to build a modular cell phone, and Spotlight Stories, a collaboration with a veteran Disney animator to create an animated film taking place in a 3D world.